Finding our Way Back Together

Finding our Way Back Together

May 2. I think the giggles are what got me. Three little girls huddled together watching the new baby sleeping in the lower level of the stroller. They hadn’t seen each other in person for months, yet a simple invitation to the family gathering at Killarney park unleashed a joyous reunion. A new family with seven children (all between 3 ½ months and 11 years) shyly stepped into the arena so that 30 kids and 20 adults merged in a frenzied splash of multi-cultural humanity. After their treasure hunt in socially ordered bubbles, the kids dashed in an amoebic mass around balls kicked out on the gravel field. Parents pulled in closer and welcomed each other to life.

We are finding out way back together.

May 8. I think it was the wide eyes that got me. A row of 160 turkey dinners were spread out in the lower ed and designated to those who had purchased them to benefit the cause of abandoned Uganda mothers. Drivers picked up their allotment and delivered them to hungry mouths as a way to honor our own moms. Flowers had been sent out with hand sanitizer and the flowers seemed to be the clincher to the wide eyes. It was great to regain some momentum in our outreach and understanding of making disciples while encouraging those who felt forgotten and isolated.

We are finding our way back together.

May 9. I think it was the joyful claps that got me. In our lower parking lot, we held our first open air service with pastor Jack standing on the ramp above exhorting the groups who circled together below. We are still live streaming our first service and posting it on YouTube but we are more than that now. Our second service, on May 16, was held in the playground, under the trees, with 37 adults there and 14 children gathering for their lesson in the courtyard and playground. Open Bibles, question sheets and holy huddles led to an interchange of thoughts, ideas and prayers for each other. Now, we are setting up tents in the main parking lot and if the Covid-19 restrictions continue for churches, we will be having both our services vibrating from under the canopies.

We are finding our way back together.

May 16. I think it was the consistent bars that got me. At our board meeting, we looked at the chart of giving that had been circulated to the members for accountability. In January, we were already $20,000 behind and it looked like we had miscalculated what Faith’s family was willing to give during a pandemic budget. We had cut the budget by $100,000 but it didn’t seem to be enough. Then February, March and April we met the targets for those months and our deficit began to shrink to $7,000. Even the needs of our missionaries are being met. Our financial volunteers faithfully count every second Tuesday as we pray that God would care for the needs of his people. And, He is doing so much through faithful givers.

We are finding our way back together.

May 20. I think it was the prayers that got me. In our Wednesday evening small group and our Thursday morning prayer group we shared our lives and lifted each other up before the throne of grace. Such passion and care unleashed to a God who cares. We prayed for the Barnabas team who needs more volunteers to help with the care of our members. We prayed for the children’s ministry and the Daycare who need more help with their vital work. We prayed for our personal challenges and for the challenges facing our world.

And as we prayed from our places on zoom, I realized that we are still finding our way back together.

Trusting that you too are finding your way back together with us. One step is a start. Join a small group, a prayer ministry, our live services. May 30th we will have a baptism service to celebrate someone else finding their way back.

In the meantime, remember you are loved more than you could ask or imagine.

Pastor Jack Taylor

Faith Fellowship Baptist Church (FFBC) Reopening Plan

Faith’s mandate of making disciples for Christ from all nations continues to work itself out through our values of faith, multi-cultural /multi-generational community and servanthood. COVID- 19 has put these values to the test and our leadership and members are creatively engaging to move us forward into the opportunities God is setting up for us. We want to keep people safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19 and so FFBC will strictly adhere to the guidelines and recommendations from BC’s Provincial Health Officer. We have been praying and seeking God’s wisdom about our plan to re-establish our gatherings and ministries.
The situation around COVID-19 is continually evolving, and as new information emerges, our plan may change also. Updates will be provided as needed by email, social media and on our FFBC website: https://faithvancouver.ca/. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact faith.vancouver@gmail.com or call the church office at 604-321-6134.
Gathering Together is the clear preference for the New Testament Church. The Greek word for Church is the Assembly or the Gathering. Most of the activity of the church is spoken of as “love one another,” “serve one another,” and “encourage one another”. Each of these activities presupposes a coming together in worship, prayer, fellowship, preaching and hospitality.
Our sister church, El Redentor, has been meeting in the building in gatherings of 50 or less throughout the week for the past 3 months. They have practiced physical distancing and hand hygiene when gathering. We are grateful that no one in either congregation has been infected by the virus. Our New Hope childcare is up and running and also has no incidence. Community transmission seems to be low at the moment, although we do not want to become complacent. One of the reasons that FFBC has been slower to reopen is that we have many seniors in our community who are at greater risk for severe illness from COVID-19, which may require hospitalization and intensive care.
While these are exceptional times, the health directive suggests limiting the size of our gathering and we have done that as a sign of our respect for authority and as a witness to our community. We continue to believe that the spiritual health of the body is of ultimate importance in managing fear and fostering hope. Wisdom is needed and we trust this plan fulfills what is needed to nurture Faith’s family. The Lord Jesus alone is head of his family and we seek to bring glory to him.
With schools heading back to full occupancy and with travel restrictions loosening there is a clear shift in public policy toward a broader level of community interaction. The following is our FFBC plan for reopening:
Beginning in September we plan to have two community gatherings:
1) Saturday evenings from 6-7 pm we will have a family service geared toward children and youth (limit 50 including staff and volunteers). Families will sit in groupings. Child management will be under parental supervision and discretion.
2) Sunday mornings from 10:00-11:30 am we will have a service open to anyone over age 20 (limit 50 including staff and volunteers). Chairs will be physically distanced in the sanctuary. We will also continue to have Sunday services live streamed for those not able to attend in person.

The following will be adhered to at all FFBC gatherings:
Please stay home if:
1) You have any of the following symptoms (fever, shortness of breath, chills, new or worsening cough, runny nose, headache, new loss of smell or taste, diarrhea, nausea and / or vomiting, sore throat or painful swallowing, loss of appetite, muscle aches, increased fatigue, or pink eye;

2) You have been in close contact with anyone diagnosed with lab confirmed COVID-19 in the past 14 days; or

3) You have travelled outside of the province or country in the past 14 days

If someone gets sick with COVID-19 after a church service at Faith, please inform the church office immediately (604 321 6134).

UPON YOUR ARRIVAL:
Please arrive 10-20 minutes early to avoid long line ups and waiting times at the entrance. Signage reminding individuals of physical distancing and of health standards before entrance will be posted. Orange arrows will be on the ramp outside and on the carpet inside to provide traffic direction. All volunteers will wear masks or face shields to ensure personal protection. Markers will be designated on the ground outside the church to indicate 2 meters distance for people waiting to enter the church.
• There will be one entrance to the building through the laneway ramp door and exits out of the north front of the auditorium, one courtyard door, and the 49th main door. A plexiglass barrier will be erected to protect volunteers tasked with processing attendees.
• You are asked to sign in upon arrival. Visitors not known to the church are required to share their contact information (name, address and phone number.) All these data serve to allow contact tracing in case of contracting the disease. The sign in sheets will be kept for four weeks and then destroyed. A set of health questions will be asked of you upon arrival.
• Before entering, a temperature scan may happen and a record of contact information will be secured – temperatures and negative responses to health concern questions will be recorded with a check mark and a numerical value.
Hygiene measures:
Personal: All attendees will be offered masks upon arrival. Medical exceptions (asthma etc.) will be noted and face shields will be provided. Practice good hand hygiene (hand washing, avoid touch your face, sneeze into your sleeve or elbow if needed. Wash your hands if you need to use the washroom.
Volunteers: All volunteers will wear masks or face shields to ensure personal protection. They will ensure hand hygiene is practiced before entering and leaving the building.
Greeting rituals: No physical greeting such as hand shaking or hugging (Please greet one another with a friendly wave or smile.)
Distance Rules: Attendees will keep a physical distance of two arms lengths (unless living in the same household) from others and follow signage as they enter, worship and exit.
Set up in the Sanctuary: The chairs are set up with the required two meters (6 feet) distance. People living in the same household can sit together.
Building: All high touch surfaces will be cleaned before and after gatherings. We encourage individuals to use their washrooms at home if possible, but the facilities at the church will be available and will be regularly cleaned. We ensure good ventilation by keeping the windows and doors open when possible.
Singing: At this point, out of abundance of caution, singing will not be permitted without a mask. The worship team will be physically distanced. There is a higher likelihood of virus transmission during singing.
Church Service:
• Attendees should reserve a space ahead of time by contacting the office at 604 321 6134 or at faith.vancouver@gmail.com. Walk-ins will be permitted if there are insufficient reservations to fill the quota.
• Live stream: All services will be live streamed to allow those not able to attend to follow the service. Tech persons, ushers, worship team members and hygiene volunteers will be included in the total of 50.
• Communion: Communion services will happen online. We are exploring safe options to include communion being served in person.
• Meals and Coffee: There will be no coffee, tea, water or other refreshments served in the building at this time.
• Collection: No formal collection will be taken although a donation box will be available for drop off contributions.
• Conclusion and Fellowship: Attendees are requested to exit the building upon the conclusion of the service and to continue their fellowship outside the building.
Please go to the following BC Centre for Disease Control website for more information about protecting yourself, your family and your community from COVID-19:
http://www.bccdc.ca/health-info/diseases-conditions/covid-19
The BC Centre for Disease Control (BC CDC) states that “Older people with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and lung disease are at higher risk of developing more severe illness or complications from COVID-19. Most people with COVID-19 recover; however, people with chronic diseases are also at higher risk of death if they become ill.” Those who are at higher risk of developing severe illness or complications from COVID-19 are advised by BC CDC to: 1) Wash hands regularly and avoid touching your face, 2) avoid large gatherings and 3) stay away from other people who are ill. People who attend a larger gathering (e.g. 50 people) at FFBC need to consider their own health risks and the risks to the health of people they are in close contact with.
Thank you for your ongoing support, participation and encouragement as we continue to work out details for our community worship and fellowship.

Silence of the Lambs

by pastor Jack

Why is it that churches hesitate to take to the streets to protest the eroding of their rights and freedoms? Are they unaware, unconcerned, unmotivated or unestablished enough to give their voice a platform? Romans 13:1 says “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established” but does this mean we have no voice as citizens apart from our vote?

Protests have become a common way of expression. The Black Lives Matter movement has rallied thousands. The First Nation Wet’suwet’en protest against pipelines raised the profile of hereditary chiefs. Via trains and work crews were halted. The Red Squirrel logging road extension had environmental protestors chaining themselves to equipment to protect old-growth pines. Marches for Freedom are becoming common.

This isn’t new. In 1990, the Canadian Army was called in to face down Mohawks in Oka, Quebec when the town tried to expand a golf course. The Mercer Bridge was blocked, an officer was killed and groups of rock throwers stood their ground until arrested. In Clayoquot Sound, BC, 700 people were arrested in 1993 during three months of protests over logging of old growth forest. Greenpeace brought in an Australian rock band to rally opponents and in 1995 the government adjusted their views on clearcutting practices. In Gustafsen Lake, that year, a medicine man helped calm an armed standoff with police even though numerous charges were laid in the dispute over sacred land.

Once upon a time, Martin Luther initiated a protest movement against the Emperor Charles V. The movement surged across Europe as it reclaimed the justice and righteousness of God. At the core was the truth that salvation came by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone according to the authority of the Scriptures alone and all for the glory of God alone. Reformers like John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, Philip Melancthon and John Knox may be names covered in the dust of history but they embraced a strong passion and belief in “Coram Deo” (that all of life was lived out in the presence of God).

Charles Colson and Ellen Vaugh, in their book Being the Body (pp 294-5), say “As Luther sought to reclaim Christian faith from cultural corruption, his work was less a radical new beginning than it was a re-formation in the truest sense of the term – a return to the essence of what the church had been in its noblest past. But the Reformation was more than a cleansing of ecclesiastical structures. Nothing was left untouched: the arts, commerce, government, and education all came under its powerful influence.”

Christians tend to focus on social justice issues or soul-winning without keeping the two thrusts together as we make disciples of Christ from all nations. The reformers worked hard to keep the church from being silenced by the authorities. They believed that the state was meant to fulfill a God-given responsibility of creating a culture and environment where family, church and government could flourish. Public officials were considered servants under God for the good of the people.

This shift in thinking led to reforms in England to the point that John Wesley, William Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury, Elizabeth Fry and numerous others fought for the abolition of the slave trade and the prevention of the exploitation of children and workers in mines and prisons.

During this time of isolation where our right to free assembly and full religious community expression have been curtailed are there new ways to express who we are; are there new ways to express community; are there new ways to make disciples for Christ from all nations? In a time of suppression, it is time for the family of God to consider this as an opportunity to break the mold and to make an impact that will ensure the voice of Christ is heard loud and clear in a land that desperately needs him. Perhaps there is someone in your social circle who needs the community we offer.

Let your voice be heard and remember that regardless of how isolated you feel, you are loved more than you could ask or imagine. Pastor Jack

Dear Child of God

Dear Child of God, You’re unrepeatable.

When the divine creator intentionally knit you together in your mother’s womb to be a one of a kind, unrepeatable, unique masterpiece designed to do his specific work (Psalms 139:15; Ephesians 2:10) there isn’t a human being alive who formed a better mold than you. Your family of origin, your tones and talents, your experiences and expressions, your bents and brokenness – It all helped frame you into what you needed to be for now. Hey, I know you’re not done but you’re designed right for where you are.

Before you took your first breath, your Maker already had a place for your eternal celebration. The One who exists outside of time, yet subjected himself to the ravages and sufferings of human limitations, already knew your place around the throne of grace with members from every tribe and tongue and nation. Not a breath, a tear or a heartbeat has been wasted in shaping you for the next expression of love and grace. No one else can do you like you.

And you are loved – now – as you are. Breathe it in. You are loved with a love that is patient without limits, kind without borders, never envious, never boastful, never proud – just satisfied at something good, something beautiful. The One who loves you never desires to dishonour or shame you; never dreams of crushing you under guilt or fear; never for a moment thinks of abandoning you or stepping even a nanometer away from you. In fact, he sings over you (Zephaniah 3:17) and his thoughts toward you outnumber all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the world (Psalm 139:17-18).

What kind of a love is this? A love that isn’t easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs. A love that never treats me as my sins deserve. A love that forgives and forgives and forgives under an ocean of grace and mercy and compassion I can’t even fathom. Oh, I know it’s a love that rejoices with the truth and never gives a nod toward evil. It’s a love that always, every second of every day, always, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Oh, that I had a love to love back that way.

And yet, here in my family, in my neighbourhood, in my church, on the streets of my city are other image bearers with their own unique, never to be duplicated selves, living, breathing, being, waiting for that love to come their way. Who am I to withhold it or distort it or to claim it only for myself?

When the limitless life of the Spirit courses through my veins with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, who am I to withhold it from my broken brothers and sisters -weighed down by the crushing pressures and pains of a world gone wrong? When do my limitations set up the boundaries like dikes on the edge of an ocean?  Especially when I too am a broken, wounded, imperfect, grace-sucking child desperate for such sweet fruit.

We are a body. A grace-filled body set free to drink up a mighty river of peace, hope, faith and truth. One by one the beacons of light who have walked before us are taken to their eternal home and generation after generation is left to pass on the torch and to live out what they know before those who don’t yet know. You, my precious family, never walk alone and you never walk unloved.

Once again, Pete Scazzero says it well. “That is why I do not believe we can grow into spiritually and emotionally mature disciples if we do not address the effects of racism and prejudice in and around us. In fact, a core characteristic of an emotionally healthy church is that the culture we build is safe for people of every race and culture, where we look at people different than us and say, without words, “You’re beautiful. You’re valuable. You’re unrepeatable.”

Remember, you are loved more than you could ask or imagine … and so is your brother, your sister… every person you see. Pastor Jack

What’s Happening to Us?

Members who Once Added Life to our Mix

Every once in a while, it is a good thing to look into the mirror and check out what is changing with the person you’re looking at? As a church, it is also good to take a look at ourselves during this time when we have time. What does it mean for us when five of our prayer pillars, givers and leaders have passed away in the past few months? What does it mean when members lose their jobs, when relationships are strained, when we can’t ‘do church’ like we used to do church? What does it mean when our giving is down 63% this month, when less than half of our attendees are joining us for morning services, and when we don’t have events or activities to keep us busy? Who are we now?

Sometimes I wonder if I value community so much because it gives legitimacy to what we do. If heaven is going to be made up of people from every tribe and tongue and nation then getting a taste of that here and now feels a little bit like a heavenly stamp of approval for who we are and what we’re doing. But what is happening now when we don’t have a place to gather and hug? Who is following up on those on the fringes, on those isolated in care homes or their own homes? Who is picking up the phone and having those important conversations about needs, challenges, spiritual growth and questions?

A small group of volunteers is beginning to reach out through our new Barnabas ministry – if you know of individuals with specific needs contact the pastoral team and they’ll let our team know. Of course, if you have the gift of encouragement and would like to be part of a team designed to reach out and care then please let us know.

Individually, this is also a good time to evaluate the strength and health of our faith. Statistics say that evangelical Christians are no different at compartmentalizing their lives than anyone else. We resurrect our spiritual selves for our gatherings and then fade off into our other selves for the rest of the week. What does that mean when there’s no gathering? Statistics say evangelicals get divorced as much as unbelievers; they beat their wives at the same rate as their neighbours; they struggle with racism as much as others; the young people think cohabitation is okay in the same percentage rates as unchurched kids –

Ron Sider, in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical says “Whether the issue is marriage and sexuality or money and care for the poor, evangelicals are living scandalously unbiblical lives…” Who are these people who dare to look at us and say we’re lousy human beings? That what we say and sing is not showing up in how we live and love everyday in real life.

By now, the daily habits we’ve started to nurture are revealing something deeper about ourselves. Has our extra time been given to nurturing a deeper relationship with Jesus and his word or have we defaulted to binge watching our TV and surfing the net? I definitely struggle with this balance as endless zoom meetings fill up my computer screen. I am by nature a busy person and I can’t say that I’m less busy but what has scooped up the attention of my heart and mind? Every day, I see why I need the prayers and encouragement of the body to keep on keeping on.

I am exposed in ways I didn’t imagine. I realize that my distant mentor Pete Scazzero is right when he warns that “work for God that is not nourished by a deep interior life with God will eventually be contaminated by other things such as ego, power, needing approval of and from others, and buying into the wrong ideas of success and the mistaken belief that we can’t fail. When we work for God because of these things, our experience of the gospel often falls off center. We become “human doings” not “human beings.” Our experiential sense of worth and validation gradually shifts from God’s unconditional love for us in Christ to our works and performance. The joy of Christ gradually disappears. Our activity for God can only properly flow from a life with God.”

Covid 19 is a mirror to our heart. The protests against racism are a mirror to our heart. The inability for us to gather is a mirror to our heart. And in all we face, we must continue to hold firmly the reality that we are loved more than we could ask or imagine. Blessings. Pastor Jack

Leading with a Limp

One of the challenges we are facing during the Covid 19 crisis is how to lead when we don’t know where to go and how to get there. In Genesis 32 we see Jacob wrestling with a stranger who wrestles with him through the night. Neither seems to be winning and the stranger asks Jacob to release him. Jacob won’t let go unless he is blessed. Then the one he wrestles with says “Your name will no longer be Jacob but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

Jacob realizes he has wrestled with God face to face and survived. Vs 31 says “The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel and he was limping because of his hip.” The stranger had dislocated Jacob’s hip in an effort to get him to let go.

Have you ever engaged with God in a way that leaves you with a limp? There was a time where I was self-confident in my counseling abilities and ready to take on the world. It took a dark night of wrestling to realize I wasn’t as sufficient and competent as I thought. It left me with a limp I am still grateful for.

In Rick Bezet’s book, Be Real (because fake is exhausting) he notes that this limp stopped Jacob’s lifelong habit of running. On page 50 he says “It is never God’s will for you to run from a problem. Never. If you run from it, it will just come up again, because God is more interested in changing your character than in making your life comfortable. When you have an encounter with God, when you really meet God, it changes the way you walk. You cannot meet somebody who is as great as God and not have your desires change.

This may be the most important thing I tell you: the deepest work God does in your life is when he works on your identity. When you see yourself the way God sees you, it’s going to change your life. You’ll be set free from the old you, and you can start acting in a whole new way.”

2 Corinthians 5:17 says “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

All of us who encounter God in some significant way are limping. We need to extend grace and patience to each other as we learn to walk with a limp. May the God who stoops to wrestle with us extend his grace to you as you take your place and do what he asks of you in this time. In the middle of it all, remember that you are loved more than you could ask or imagine. Pastor Jack

praying for those who needed some specific care from the Good Shepherd
praying for those who needed some specific care from the Good Shepherd

The Next Generation

The Next Generation

Almost everyone loves a baby. Welcoming several into our church family through recent dedications has been inspiring. We readily stand as a church family and pledge ourselves to pray and to support the parents as they do the hard work.

Then the teen years arrive and the wrestling for independence. What do we do with the next generation – especially when so many of them get busy and start caving to peer pressure? Researchers are optimistic and see this group as the most “connected, educated and sophisticated generation in history.”

Tim Elmore and Andrew McPeak, in their book Marching Off the Map, remind us that today’s students are unique in that they “put technology in the same category as air and water.” With that access the next generation is ‘down to earth, distracted, distressed, discerning and determined.’

In 2020, we have six distinct sociological generations living together – negotiating for space. The Builders (1929-1945); The Boomers (1946-1964); The Busters (1965-1982 Generation X); The Millennials (1983-2000 Generation Y); The Centennials (2001-2018 Generation Z); The Next (2019-)

Anthropologist Margaret Mead says “WE are now at a point where we must educate our children in what no one knew yesterday, and prepare our schools for what no one knows yet.” (p. 69)

Clearly, the next generation is anxious about the fragility of the environment, about the untrustworthiness of their governments, about the uncertain nature of truth, about their financial prosperity, about their long-term housing stability, and about the temporary nature of love and relationships. How do we speak hope, life and peace to them so they don’t get overwhelmed?

Too often, we’ve left our children to get their answers elsewhere – in school, on-line, from their peers. Christian adults need to nurture relationships with the younger generations so that trust and truth can be established and embraced early. Youth don’t see the same need to belong and are disengaging from political parties, churches, and traditional organizations. They care more about opportunity than about loyalty. They care more about what’s trending on social media.

As influencers of the next generation this is a time for authenticity – acknowledging what we do know and what we don’t know. Our youth are navigating a world filled with mental health challenges, growing suicide rates, escalating addictions, gender confusion, fake news, ethnic diversity, changing cultural and social values, etc. Who will walk with them?

Our world promotes ‘speed, convenience, entertainment, nurture and entitlement’ (p. 73). Students are left thinking that slow, hard, boring, risk and work are bad. How do we in the church give the next generation a different sense of who Jesus is for them in the midst of all the changes they face?

While 2020 is still young, this is a time to be on our knees for the next generations. It is also a time to intentionally be reaching back to provide whatever support, encouragement and relationship is needed. Just as God has not abandoned us, those who come after us need daily reminders that he has not abandoned them. Regardless of which generation you are growing with, remember you are loved more than you could ask or imagine. Pastor Jack

Doing Real Life Face to Face

Vancouver continues to be considered one of the loneliest places for people who want honest face to face relationships. The pressure to accomplish, to survive, to be significant can be overwhelming. Even if you’re proficient with social media – sometimes that flow of seconds between responses seems like an unbridgeable gap.

Have you had moments where you felt a tinge of loneliness lately? There didn’t seem anyone available to share in your joy, your challenge, your desire, your hope? The space around you seemed a little too empty?

Vancouver continues to be considered one of the loneliest places for people who want honest face to face relationships. The pressure to accomplish, to survive, to be significant can be overwhelming. Even if you’re proficient with social media – sometimes that flow of seconds between responses seems like an unbridgeable gap.

Most people have their eyes locked on a screen instead of locked on the eyes of another. The upcoming generation is considered the “connected generation” and yet they can sit side by side without even looking at each other. People have chirps, chimes, buzzes and tones streaming out of their pockets. These distractions keep them from getting to any depth with anyone they could be physically present with.

We’ve grown used to the delusion and deception that somehow the individual who is not here is more important than the one we are with – and the one left sitting alone while the other person leaves to talk is left to accept this reality. It’s a subtle message we don’t always realize we are delivering. This tension of always having to be available for someone else (where we say I have to take this) sucks at the margins we need to create healthy relationships.

Technology itself is no more evil than paper. It’s a tool for communication that can be used for good or harm. The issue of disconnecting from each other only accentuates our sense of loneliness.

Carey Nieuwhof, in his book Didn’t See It Coming (pp.71-71) sees that technology, as it is often used, has brought about the demise of genuine conversation and of confession. He says:

Great conversation is a beautiful art. It involves the exchange of ideas between two or more people who care enough about one another to listen as well as speak. Sadly, conversations seem to be devolving into an exchange of monologues among people who don’t seem terribly interested in one another. People today appear to be talking at one another more than they’re talking with one another. Next time you’re in a conversation with someone, wait to see how often you get asked a question. It might be as simple as “How are you doing, really?” or “That’s fascinating – can you tell me more?” Questions are the turning points for great conversation and intriguing connections with people.

Social media sometimes gets us focused on telling others what we are doing and our live verbal interactions follow suit to the point where we are simply exchanging chunks of information back and forth without the curiosity and communication we crave for in human relationship building.

Nieuwhof also notes that the loss of confession is also significant (he doesn’t mean Catholic). He says:

The type of confession I’m talking about has a much broader and far deeper meaning….Confession is a part of prayer and life where we come before God and one another to admit all that we aren’t: our shortcomings, our intentional sins, and myriad unintentional sins. When we confess our brokenness, we admit that we are not all we pretend to be, hope to be, or could be. We own up to the fact that we are a mess.

He continues: “We avoid confession because it requires us to look in the mirror. It demands revealing the real you that you don’t want anyone to see. This is the you God would love for you to bring to him, but you (and I) steadfastly refuse to surrender. The shift away from confession leaves most of us in a precarious state. Particularly younger adults, teens, and kids who were raised in a society that ignores sin.”

Something to think about. What keeps you disconnected from others? At Faith we are building a culture of grace where people can connect face to face. Through sacrificial hospitality, caring small groups, corporate worship and compassionate acceptance we trust that God is doing something special among us in a city that is filled with desperately lonely people. You can change all that by changing the focus from what is happening to you to focusing on what is happening to someone near you. It’s amazing what happens within you when you discover what is happening in someone else. For the health of us all, think of how you can engage another with questions and ask away. Whatever happens, remember that you are loved more than you can ask or imagine. Pastor Jack

Praying Radically Yourself

praying radically

Have you noticed something different at the end of our last decade? You can see it in services like Doordash and Skip the Dishes. You can see it in demands for services like Amazon and Uber. You can see it in the way food is prepared in
super markets. Many people have moved from doing it yourself to do it for me.

When my daughter was young she got to the place where she would say “do it self.” She was about two. Now, her two-year-old is saying “do it self.” Most of us parents saw this step toward independence as a potentially good thing if it was nurtured and channeled. But something is changing. Youth and adults have become starved for time and overwhelmed by decision making. There is too much information to process everything.

When the average cell phone user touches their screen between 2500-5000 x a day there are a lot of distractions and demands happening and people no longer want to do it all myself.

Canadian author Carey Niewhof says “In a culture where most people feel overwhelmed, overcommitted and overworked, people are willing to pay money for anything that shaves off minutes or does the thinking for them.”

GPS is one example. Pre-sliced apples in stores that cost up to 10x an unsliced apple is another.

Unfortunately,I think, some of this tendency has crept into the church when it comes to prayer. We have become all too willing to let others pray for us and this is sad for one main reason. A praying church is the most powerful body of people designed by God to demonstrate his power and wisdom to the universe.

Superheroes and Starwars rebels have nothing on a church committed to prayer. Paul tells us that Ephesians 3:14-21.

14-15 Paul prays because he is part of a single world-wide family God has chosen, redeemed and sealed. We pray because of what God hasl already done in adoptin us into this universal family. In doing this we remind the enemy and all who listen that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves.

I don’t know about you but I found recently that when I get too busy and distracted to pray that my world focuses very quickly more and more on me, what I want, what I’m doing, what I need.

Prayer expands your mind and heart toward the fact that God is reconciling the universe to himself and he is doing it through the church as the body of Christ. through the gospel he is bringing together men and women from every tribe and tongue and nation so that the devil and all his demons realize how wise and loving and powerful he is You and I are ment to be part of that story. Let’s read a few verses.

Ephesians 3:14-15 “For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

For what reason? – notice those first few words. Look back at Ephesians 3:1 where Paul says “For this reason, I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles”

That takes us back to chapter 2 where Paul says this: As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who i now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

But because of his great love for us, who is rich in mercy, mad us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this is not from your, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast. for we are God’s handiwork in Chris Jesus to do good works, God prepared in advance for us to do.

Paul is trying to make it clear that none of us deserved God’s favor. In chapter one he tells us we are chosen before the creation of the world to be adopted as God’s children and that God made known the mystery of his will to us. When we believed we were incorporated into his family we were sealed with the Holy Spirit in such a way that our redemption was secured.

This is why Paul starts off his prayer in 3:14 by saying “For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”

Most Jews stood to pray lifting up their faces and hands toward heaven. Paul is in a state of awe and so he kneels before the heavenly Father who has brought Jews and Gentiles into one family called the church. This is an incredible mystery which astounds the spiritual forces around us. The enemy and his forces try to destroy, disrupt and divide but in the church, God is bringing all things together.

In 2:13-16 “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”

When you and I show up as part of a church family made up of people from different tribes, tongues and nations. When we come together from different social backgrounds.

When we come together with different personalities, different hopes, different political persuasions, different tastes in music and food and education – when we act as one, we confound the spirits who are diligently watching what God is up to. When you keep coming here – despite how crazy your world has gotten you are saying something much more than you realize.

At our New Year’s Eve service, we used a puzzle of the nativity to discern spiritual lessons for the New Year. Someone made the observation that each piece by itself didn’t show much but all the pieces together revealed an image that captured our awe. So, it is true with the body of Christ. Together, we show the beauty and awe of who Jesus is and what he’s done for the universe. We pray together for each other in recognition of the great work God has already done.

16-19 We pray not only to remind the heavenly forces of what God has already done but we pray to remind each other of what he is still doing.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have poser, together with all the Lord’s holy people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep the of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Wouldn’t you love someone to be praying this for you? That you might be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being. That you would be rooted and established in love. That you would grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. That you would be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Wow. We need to pray this for each other.

Why? Because of the mystery. What mystery? Paul says God has shown us a great mystery which no one understood before – and which few still understand. The mystery is this:

3:6 “The mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”

The mystery is that through Jesus God has brought all of us outsiders into his family and all the promises he gave to Israel are now ours.

Paul says in vs. 9-11 that he was given the task to make the mystery plain. “God’s intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Did you see this again? God is using us, as the church, to show angels and demons how wise he is in pulling all of us together. In a few chapters Paul is going to conclude his letter in Ephesian 6:10 by saying “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God… vs 18 “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”

Do you see why we need to pray now? Not only has Jesus brought us into a family in the past to show the angels and demons how wise and powerful God is but now we are locked in a battle with those demonic forces who are trying to destroy what God is doing.

Our battles are not with each other so don’t let the enemy make you think so. Pray for our strength, unity, power, fullness. Pray that God would bring even more members from every tribe and tongue and nation into this body to prove his wisdom and power.

No church exists to show how great they are. We exist to show how wise and good and loving and gracious and powerful God is. As we pray for each other we are doing this so we see God continue to complete the good work he began in us.

If you were to look at this chapter a little more you would see that Paul says that even our suffering is part of God’s plan to prove his wisdom. By hanging onto our faith when things aren’t good, we show that we love him for who he is and not just for the good he gives us. This confounds the enemy. Even when Jesus faced the worst pain, suffering and torture he didn’t abandon his Father. As we hold onto God in trust through the hard challenges of life, we are again a witness to those forces who won’t believe.

We pray to remind angels and demons about what God has done and we pray to remind each other what God is still doing.

Vs 20-21 We pray to declare what God will still do.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to the power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

Some of our youth have stepped out and want to make a difference on our planet and that’s a good thing – but it’s a small thing compared to what God designs and desires for us. Some of you are engaged in causes which might make a difference for a short time on a few people but God is calling you to something even longer lasting and more impactful. Some are working hard to alleviate injustice and suffering among people and that is good but God is wanting us to engage in alleviating on a grander scale.

Because we believe that God is alive, aware and attentive to what is happening with us we come boldly before his throne of grace for help. He can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. What can you imagine? Sounds like a commercial… but God can do more than you can imagine. Why would he do so much for his church?

Paul tells us in his letter to 1 Timothy (3:14-16). “I am writing you these instructions so that…you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”

The church is the pillar and foundation of truth. We are the vehicle through which the good news about Jesus gets out to all the nations. We are the ones whose prayers unleash the power of the Spirit to transform hearts and minds. Some of our missionaries and ministers, like Paul and Jesus, will suffer great things to get that message out there. They need our prayers.

Is there someone who you can’t imagine would come to Jesus? Perhaps that is the one thing you can do at the start of this year. Change what you can imagine and start praying for that.

God’s Design and desire is to form for himself one people from all over this planet.One people who will join the long line of prayer warriors and praise givers who he embraced his wisdom and power throughout all the generations.

He wants you to step into the family with Noah, Abraham, Moses, Ruth, David, Daniel, Esther, Mary and Paul. Don’t settle for sharing God’s goodness with those around you. Step out and start making a difference in the universe.

Estimates say that there are 17,000 ethnic people groups. Of these groups over 7,000 have less than 2% of their population who know Jesus. 40% of the world’s people groups have no recognized churches for people to worship, witness, grow and pray. The largest 50 of these people groups include 1 ½ billion souls. How will these people join God’s family?

I want to finish by highlighting what the gospel did in Korea. Missionaries went to Korea in 1885. In 1974 Korean churches sent out 24 missionaries. 40 years later there were 27,436 Korean missionaries serving in 170 countries around the world.

Korean tradition has people going to church at 5 am to worship and pray before work and in those dawn prayers many have been called to mission service. This priority of prayer and obedience has been transformative in our world.

In Africa, evangelical Christianity, with its focus on the Bible, the cross, conversion, justice and mission has led fights against slavery, poor health, lack of education, famine and oppression starting in the 1700’s and beyond. Africans from the earliest days of the church have played a significant role in leadership. Now, in Latin America, the Philippines and China, God is raising up his church. Some areas are still a challenge in the face of persecution.

What does Paul want us to remember as we start off a new decade in God’s church here?

Why kneel before our heavenly Father as one family together? 1. As a witness to all the universe about what God’s wisdom and power has done in bringing every tribe and tongue and nation into one church through the death and resurrection of Jesus. God has done the impossible.

2. We pray as a weapon on behalf of each other in our spiritual war against enemy forces and to bring power and courage into our efforts to live out our faith before a hostile world. 3. We pray as a work that expands our vision for what God can still do beyond all we could ask or imagine.

Let’s take a few minutes as the church to come boldly before the throne of grace. In this time pray for the realities we’ve reviewed. Prepare for communion.

Developing a Hunger for God

developing a hunger for God

In a season of feasting, celebrating and giving it is not always apparent who or what we are hungry for. The health of Faith’s family depends on an ongoing hunger for God but when all our needs are met how do we stay aware of this underlying hunger?

In John Piper’s book, A Hunger for God, he focuses the believer on the discipline of fasting and prayer. His thoughts are anchored on the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 9:14-17.

Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

When fasting is a common practice in religions, cultures and societies why should we join in? Doesn’t the arrival of Jesus do away with harsh and manipulative practices by people trying to fill some form of law? Aren’t we, in the church, living in post-resurrection days beyond the realm of ritual and self-denial? Shouldn’t we, as Spirit-filled people, live above the pulling and prodding of our bodily appetites and pleasures?

Piper notes that, although fasting is a universal practice, no one knows its origins. It has been used to mark religious festivals, political purposes, health pursuits and mourning rituals. Outside the gospels, the practice of fasting is hardly mentioned among church disciplines.

Still, Jesus says that his followers will fast after he leaves. Piper says “in this age there is an ache inside every Christian that Jesus is not here as fully and intimately and as powerfully and as gloriously as we want him to be. We hunger for so much more. That is why we fast.” (p. 38) He notes that our longing is based on the finished work of Christ and not out of an emptiness of some kind.

“We have tasted the powers of the age to come, and our fasting is not because we are hungry for something we have not experienced, but because the new wine of Christ’s presence is so real and so satisfying. We must have all that it is possible to have. The newness of our fasting is this: its intensity comes not because we have never tasted the wine of Christ’s presence, but because we have tasted It so wonderfully by his Spirit, and cannot now be satisfied until the consummation of joy arrives. The new fasting, the Christian fasting, is a hunger for all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19), aroused by the aroma of Jesus’ love and by the taste of God’s goodness in the gospel of Christ (I Peter 2:2-3).

“…Faith is a spiritual feasting on Christ with a view to being so satisfied in him that the power of all other allurements is broken. This feasting begins by receiving the past grace of Christ’s death and resurrection, and then embraces all that God promises to be for us in him. As long as we are finite and fallen, Christian faith will mean both delighting in the (past) incarnation and desiring the (future) consummation.” (pp. 42-43)

As Isaiah reminds us (58:1-12) true fasting in God’s eyes “looses the chains of injustice, sets the oppressed free, shares food with the hungry, provides the poor wanderer with shelter, clothes the naked and takes care of needy humans in our community.

Now, is there some way that our hunger for Jesus to be fully present among us might stimulate us to see those around us and meet their needs? Faith’s family needs this hunger for Jesus to show itself in real and practical ways. May God bless you as you put your hunger into practice. However you demonstrate it, know that you are loved more than you could ask or imagine. Pastor Jack